Neuqua Valley and Naperville Central staged a defensive battle for four quarters. Each team managed just one touchdown and neither had success passing or running the ball.
Luckily for the Wildcats, coach Bill Ellinghaus had an ace up his sleeve to play in the overtime.
Ellinghaus inserted senior Palmer Domschke into the backfield and it changed the game. Domschke ran for a touchdown in the first overtime and the game-winning touchdown in the second overtime to give No. 7 Neuqua Valley a 20-17 win against No. 5 Naperville Central.
The home fans stormed the field after Domschke sealed the win with a seven-yard run in the second OT. Domschke himself went streaking down the field in celebration with his team and needed a minute to get his breath back before he could talk with reporters.
“At the beginning of the year we practiced that play all the time,” Domschke said. “I was a back then and I’m one of the fastest guys on the team. I got a concussion the first game of the year and we [put the running game] in the hands of Grant Larkin.”
Domschke now plays defense and kicks and punts for the Wildcats (5-0, 2-0 DuPage Valley).
But Domschke was ready with the game on the line. His first carry of the game was the first play in overtime and he rumbled 10 yards into the corner of the end zone.
“Palmer as an individual football player is one of the very very best that has come through here,” Ellinghaus said. “He’s really dynamic. What he does with his leg, kicking the football and punting the ball for us. He’s making tackle after tackle. And when it is important he gets in the end zone twice to give us 14 points. He’s always about the team.”
Naperville Central responded with a touchdown in the first overtime. Quarterback Owen Prucha punched in a one-yard run to tie the game. Then the Redhawks had to settle for a field goal in the second overtime, setting up Domschke’s heroics. He scored the second touchdown on a third-and-goal from the 7.
“[Ellinghaus] knows how much this team means to me and he knows I’m going to get the job done,” Palmer said. “Thankfully I got into the end zone. I did what I had to do for the team even though I messed up earlier.”
The earlier mess up was a missed field goal in the first half. The game was scoreless until Prucha connected with James Jopes on a 19-yard touchdown with 7:45 left to play.
Prucha was 13-for-19 passing for 158 yards with one TD and one interception. Northwestern recruit Reggie Fleurima had six catches for 71 yards for the the Redhawks (4-1, 1-1).
Neuqua Valley responded on the next drive, scoring on a 40-yard pass from Mark Mennecke to Justin Nonnenmann.
Mennecke was 16-for-31 passing for 139 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The win will elevate the Wildcats into the ranks of the area’s elite. They are ready for the spotlight.
“I love this team,” Domschke said. “We are always fighting and we never stop. We believe we are the best team in the state.”